Monday, November 16, 2015

Short Story: SMOD 2016

SMOD 2016
A short story by Paul Hsieh

"So, basically you're saying that humanity should be extinct by now." MIT astrophysics professor Linda Tsang furrowed her brow.

"Yes, many times over," replied statistics professor Max Wendt. "Based on the new telescope data you provided me about the asteroid belt, the Earth should have been struck by a 'Dinosaur Killer' rock at least 5 or 6 times in the past 10,000 years."

"So, why haven't we?" asked Tsang.

"Well, there are a few possibilities," said Wendt.

"(1) We've been extraordinarily lucky. But according to my supercomputer simulations, the probability that we've avoided all those events by chance is less than one-in-200-million.

"(2) My math is wrong. But I posted a preprint of my findings to yesterday, and colleagues at Stanford, Harvard, as well as in London and Moscow have independently verified my conclusions."

Wendt hestitated for a second, looked around nervously, then continued.

"Or (3) Something -- or somebody -- has been protecting the Earth from a deadly asteroid strike."

"As in little green men? Aliens?" asked Tsang. "You've never been the type to engage in such wild flights of fancy."

"I know it sounds crazy, Linda. But the math checks out."

"Ok, then -- possible motives? Are they doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, Max? Because they love humanity?"

"I don't know, Linda. Maybe they are benevolent overseers who want to protect humanity.  Maybe they're the equivalent of kids treating us like an ant farm. Maybe we're part of some cosmic experiment, where observers want to see how human society develops if we're unaware of alien influences. There's no way to know."

"I don't like where this is headed. Anyone powerful enough to protect us from extinction..."  Tsang's voice trailed off. "And what if we're part of some experiment, but we humans have just become aware of the observers? What then? Wouldn't that skew the experimental findings?"

"I don't know," replied Wendt uneasily. "But I've just started seeing online speculation about this precise topic in response to my Arxiv preprint and..."

Tsang's phone beeped. She looked at the text and went pale. "My grad students report that 2,000 asteroids have just suddenly started accelerating in a collision course for Earth. Impact in 12 months."

She and Wendt stared at each other for a minute. 

Finally, Wendt laughed. "I guess it won't matter who I vote for in the 2016 elections, then."

["Asteroid Belt", image courtesy Wikipedia.]